AKA: Why Did I Read This?
The V Girl has a super interesting concept, but here, that concept really reads more as a means to an end, rather than something that the author wanted to seriously explore. It feels like concept was really just a highbrow way to get sex into a book.
So, essentially, Lila Velez is a resident of a post-apocalyptic North America where rape and sexual slavery are legal. She’s a virgin, so she’s trying to lose her virginity before it’s taken from her. This sounds really good, right? Like it could be really gritty, really profound and something special? Well it’s really, really not. Robarts’ world building and characterization bears much of the fault for that.
The world building here is essentially non-existent. We are told that the United States has split and there are two sides warring with one another. This war has been raging for 21 years. That’s basically it. We’re told that there’s a “recruitment” which Lila fears as this “recruitment” essentially is legalized rape and sexual slavery.
There’s no hints as to how the country has gotten to this point or as to how society has gotten to the point it has, which is problematic as this story does not hinge on one event. It brings to mind, for me, The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’s world building in the first book was not exactly the best, but it was sufficient enough for the story she was telling. In The Hunger Games, we’re told that the nation of Panem “rose from the ashes of what was once North America.” We’re never really told exactly, explicitly what happened to the US, Canada and Mexico, but I didn’t find that especially necessary. The first book focuses just on the games themselves and Collins gives us what we need to understand the games – 75 years before, the Districts rebelled against the Capital, failed and now, each year, the Capital has the Districts sacrifice one boy and one girl as penance. Fine. I’m good with that.
The V Girl gives us essentially nothing. A recruitment is about to happen, which Lila fears because she’s a virgin. Why the hell does this take place at all? If you want us to care about this war in which rape is a casual weapon, what started the damn thing in the first place? It was difficult for me to focus on what was happening as all I kept thinking was, “But why in the actual hell is this all going down in the first place?”
Also, things just flat out don’t seem to make much sense. Lila escapes recruitment by telling a lie, saying that she’s not a “V-Girl”, when she actually is still a virgin. If this was all she had to do, why in the actual hell does she spend roughly 85 % of the damn book trying so hard to lose her virginity? Why? That her lie was believed renders a good chunk of the events of the book as unnecessary. If she’s such a fantastic liar that she can trick people into believing her lies (including these Witches, who are at the recruitment ceremony, presumably to verify what the possible recruits say), this is something that should have been brought up at some point prior.
The characterization is also lacking. Lila is your basic YA heroine – presented as badass, but really milquetoast and boring as hell. There’s nothing substantial to her. She loves her family – where, oh where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, every other dystopian YA in existence. She has a tragic past that has so affected her – her mother was raped in front of her and later died. As we all know, dead parents are all the range in YA/NA literature. It’s basically the fastest way to give the characters some sympathy and a past. However, you just can’t do it. It needs to actually be done well or it just comes off as eye roll inducing as it does here. It’s like “okay, whatever, dead mom, moving right along” because it just feels like a plot point instead of something that seriously affects Lila’s personality and character. Lila’s mixed-race, so yay for diversity, I guess?
There is nothing – and I do mean nothing – inventive or new about Lila. She’s just a trope given a name and a fondness for voyeurism. The side characters – her family included – aren’t very well drawn either and are basically just window dressing on this story. And oh, the love triangle.
Full disclosure, I hate love triangles. They’re unnecessary and take up space which could be used to strengthen plot holes. Here, I found it even more unnecessary. Both Rey and Aleksey Fürst are really simple cut outs of actual characters. There’s not enough in their characterization to make them any more than that. Rey especially frustrated me.
As the book is told through Lila’s eyes, I can buy that Aleksey is sketchily drawn because Lila really doesn’t know him at all. But Rey? No. I should be able to buy the relationship between Rey and Lila. I should be able to see their friendship and understand it. Lila tells us that they’re close, that they’re friends, but there’s little in the text to make me believe it. Same as when Rey says he “loves” Lila. Sure, he only realizes it/says it because he’s jealous, but still, the text should show us.
To go back to The Hunger Games, Gale’s characterization and his relationship with Katniss are drawn so much better. It’s explained that he and Katinss have been friends for years, drawn together by the mine explosion that killed their fathers and their needing to grow up much sooner than they should have. When they’re hunting at the start of the book, Katinss explains that this is how they met and it took them some time to get close. This closeness was built through his showing her how to hunt and her showing him how to forage for plants. This friendship has grown as they were stepping into the roles of the woman and the man of their respective homes. It’s much easier to believe from the way they interact with one another, even in that little time together in the woods at the very start of the book, that they care for one another; that they actually have built a friendship. And later, when it becomes apparent that Gale actually has feelings for Katniss.
It’s really hard to buy from what’s in the text that Rey and Lila actually have a history and a friendship. Since I found it difficult to buy that relationship, I also found it difficult to care about the events that transpire between them. Because it’s hard to care about these events, it’s also difficult for me to give a damn about this triangle involving Aleksey, who is basically just another boring as hell Alpha male character. There’s basically nothing to him either. You (of course) find out that he also has this tragic past, one that assist Lila with understanding him even more, but still. It’s cookie-cutter and lacks inventiveness.
There’s a playlist at the end of the book, which is something else I really didn’t care for. I don’t believe that books should come with a built in playlist. I’ve said before and I’ll said it again – books and your response to them are super personal. Music and your response to it is super personal as well. I don’t need or what to know what the author thinks is good musical accompaniment to their book. Once the book is out of the author’s hands and into a reader’s, the reader’s response and feelings is what should shape that reader’s experience. I have a playlist I use when I’m working on my own novel. Those songs get me into the mood and mindset I need and want to be in to write the story I’m telling. I wouldn’t give that playlist to my readers – it’s the readers’ privilege to find their own feelings, to find their own musical response to my words. It’s not for me to dictate that.
The book also contains an interview with Robarts, which also added to my utter frustration with this book. From the interview, you can tell that she cares about the subjects of rape, war rape, consent. These issues are important to her. But I can’t understand why she wrote this book to walk about those concepts – there’s just no substance in this book. At all. There’s no darkness, no reckoning with difficult things. Lila’s isn’t engaging and she doesn’t engage. She spends the book worrying about losing her virginity and fantasizing about sex (and sometimes looking after her family and arguing with Rey.) Yeah, she’s part of a little rebellious group, but it’s such a brief thing that it really feels like an aside and ultimately adds very little to the book. Robarts could have taken that sequence out and the book wouldn’t have suffered. Very little would have been affected. It gets to the heart of what bothers me so much about The V Girl – everything is just so surface and so shallow. There’s simply no teeth to The V Girl. Rape, the war, the dystopia are all a small part of The V Girl and really are just brushed over in a rush to get to this grand love affair between Lila and Aleksey.
I’ve seen people – particularly on Goodreads – say that The V Girl is brilliant and well crafted. It’s not brilliant. Brideshead Revisited is brilliant. It’s not well crafted. The Secret History is well crafted. It’s not even smart. You might say it’s unfair that I compare The V Girl to a classic and a piece of literary fiction. Fine. I’ll bite: Harry Potter is well relatively crafted. The Golden Compass is brilliant. Mya Robarts is no J.K. Rowling and no Philip Pullman. Hell, she’s no Suzanne Collins or even Stephenie Meyer – I hated Twilight but at least the internal world made sense! I don’t understand the audience for this. I can’t imagine any serious readers really enjoying the book. I never say that, because hey, everyone likes what they like. Most of my favorite books and those I enjoy the most are classics, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love some good YA, as you can see from some past reviews. I just can’t understand how anyone can actually take The V Girl seriously and call it a good book.
The V Girl is scattered, nonsensical and messy. That the cover is lovely is the nicest thing I can say about the novel.